In this video NZCER chief researcher Rose Hipkins says getting students to participate in and contribute to the creation of new knowledge is something she has long seen as a dilemma, since she was a classroom teacher. She talks about the entry point session at the 2012 Shifting Thinking Workshop. Read more about this session in Sue McDowall’s previous blogposting.
Quite some time ago I blogged about the beginnings of NZCER’s “future-focussed issues” research project, explaining that one of our initial aims was:
…to look for examples of what we’re loosely labelling “self-generating networks for knowledge building, learning, and change”. We are interested in how such networks form around … future focussed issues in both formal and non-formal education, with particular emphasis on how new knowledge is generated in these networks, and in connection with learning beyond school (i.e. with business, communities, youth groups, web-based social networks, etc).
We’ve recently uploaded a research report on the NZCER website called Organising for Emergence. This exploratory study describes ReGeneration ’09, a four-day gathering held in February 2009 which brought together young adults and secondary-school-aged youth with an interest and involvement in sustainability and environmental issues within their schools, workplaces and communities. A long-term goal was to help inspire and build youth-initiated and youth-supported regenerative action in communities across New Zealand. We were approached by the organisers of ReGeneration to form a research partnership around the initiation of this network, and Organising for Emergence is the resulting report. It aims to represent some of the important ideas, processes, points of view and outcomes that we noticed as researcher-participants in ReGeneration ’09. By reflecting back these ideas and outcomes to the people involved, we hoped to add to the ongoing learning and development that is occurring within the ReGeneration network. Naturally, we also hope that Organising for Emergence will be of interest to a wider audience interested in sustainability, youth learning and leadership, and social and educational change.
We see Organising for Emergence as an entry-point or a stepping stone into many of the ideas that we would like to continue to develop in the Future Focussed Issues project. The report is not an endpoint, but a beginning point for further thinking, research, and conversations. Over the next couple of weeks I hope to blog about some of the themes and concepts discussed in Organising for Emergence and I invite you to discuss these with me. You are, of course, welcome to download the full report, or simply follow the blogpostings and contribute your views as each new posting is added.
(I have more questions than answers.)
I’ve just read an article sent to me by a UK colleague who shares my interest in making changes in the way we teach genetics at secondary school. The paper is about “Biological Citizenship”. It was written by Nikolas Rose and Carlos Novas. They are sociologists whose interest in the “nature of science” links it to work done on how the public interacts with science, not to the school curriculum. But I think the things they write about raise huge questions for those of us who work in the school sector. You can access the whole article here.
In this paper they set out to describe and discuss what biological citizenship in the 21st century looks like and how it changes who we are – how we think about ourselves, how others might look at our potential “biovalue” and what we do when faced with a biological issue that impacts on our life (or others might expect us to do). Here are two excerpts from the many examples and ramifications Rose and Novas explore (I added the italics):
… while patients’ organisations and support groups have been around for many years, today we see one notable innovation: the formation of direct alliances with scientists. Patients organisations are increasingly not content with merely raising funds for biomedical research but are seeking an active role in shaping the direction of science in the hope that they can speed the process by which cures and treatments are developed. (p.24)
…a key feature of the Internet is that it does not only give access to material disseminated by professionals, it also links an individual to self-narratives written by patients or carers. These accounts usually offer a different narrative of life with an illness, setting out practical ways of managing a body that is ill, the effect and harms of particular therapeutic regimes, ways of negotiating access to the health care system and so forth. That is to say, these narratives provide techniques for leading a life in the face of illness. They have a further distinctive feature which relates to truth itself. Strategies for making up biological citizens ‘from above’ tend to represent the science itself as unproblematic: they problematize the ways in which citizens misunderstand it. But these vectors ‘from below’ pluralize biological and biomedical truth, introduce doubt and controversy, and relocate science in the fields of experience, politics and capitalism. (p.14)
Reading this discussion raised huge questions for me about what we teach in school and why – questions about content itself, but most especially questions about what we mean by the “nature of science” and what difference we expect it to make to the ways we teach content. One question I have is “whose nature of science?” I’ve read a lot of research literature that explores NOS as an idea. I’ve come to the conclusion that much of it is a deficit literature. It talks about what teachers don’t know and won’t do. But this is mostly in relation to what we might call an “epistemological” view of NOS that focuses largely on questions of how experts come to make definitive knowledge claims – what Rose and Novas would call ‘from above’ versions of NOS. I think the ‘from below’ actions they describe have huge implications for how we think about what we mean by NOS for the school curriculum. My own position on this is not yet well resolved but I do see it as helpful that the NOS strand of the curriculum is linked closely to the key competencies by the way the sub-strands have been named and developed. I’m especially thinking about “participating and contributing” here. The participatory two-way nature of interactions citizens have with science really jump out of the above descriptions. (By two-way I mean that ordinary people who interact with a biomedical issue can influence the science that happens, not just be influenced by it.) Bullet point four of the science learning area statement implies a focus on current and future participation too (but not necessarily the more radical “two-way” dimension):
By studying science students will … use scientific knowledge and skills to make informed decisions about the communication, application, and implications of science as these relate to their own lives and cultures and to the sustainability of the environment. (Ministry of Education, 2007, p.28)
If we really mean to help students reach these sorts of outcomes (actually do we?) what might we need to do differently? How could you, while still at school, learn to “be” a person who is ready, willing and able (to borrow Margaret Carr’s framing of key competencies) to do the sort of things Rose and Novas describe? What science do you need to know? What sort of NOS might help and how? Who helps students bring the pieces together (social sciences not just science)? Assuming we can imagine some answers, how can we even make it possible for these sorts of changes to take place? What might happen if we don’t change? (Rose and Novas are not writing science fiction – these things they describe are happening already.) It would be good to share ideas because these won’t be easy questions to answer.
[21MB streaming Flash video]
Jane Gilbert, Chief Researcher at NZCER, discusses knowledge and implications for education, as presented on day 1 of The Shifting Thinking conference: 3 November 2009.
Setting: a well-loved chair outside the rehearsal room at Circa theatre, during day two.
At the ShiftingThinking conference, we’ll be thinking together about the various things which get in the way of our transition to the future of schools and schooling. Our read of the 21C school literature shows us that if we’re really going to invent schools for the new millennium, we’ll face changes in all kinds of different ways. We’ll have to really think through issues like:
• Purpose: What is the most important purpose of schooling in the 21C? What current purposes are you willing to give up?
• People: Who are the people in these learning spaces and where do they come from? How are the older people qualified/grouped and how do they interact with each other and the younger people? How are the younger people qualified/grouped and how do they interact with each other and with the older people?
• Process: What happens over the course of the day? How is the day defined and organised?
• Place: Where does this thing called “school” happen?
• Content: What is the learning content of schools and how do people engage with that content? How do we know when people have mastered that content? Who gets to decide what the content is?
We’re guessing that from this set of questions, a set of dilemmas will emerge. You could take just about any question from the above list and imagine that people might have very different answers to them—and that those differences might expose competing commitments right down into the fabric of our society. On this rainy school holiday day, for example, one of the core purposes of school seems to me to be: Get the children out of the house and in some supervised activity where they’re not bored all day and driving me crazy! Now, in my life as a teacher and an educational researcher, I would never put “child care” on the list of major purposes of school. But if I am really honest, in my heart-of-hearts I have to say that I know that if the “child care” component of schooling were absent, that would be a big problem for me as a mom.
At the ShiftingThinking Conference, we’re going to be looking at some of these core dilemmas and why they’re so hard to change (see my thinking about one issue here). We’d like readers to contribute what they see as some of the most difficult and intractable (and thus most interesting and important) dilemmas which face us in the Shift to 21stC schools and thinking!
I’ve just read an article by Chris Dede in the May 2009 Issue of Educational Researcher (reference details at the bottom of this posting) and it’s really struck a chord for me, particularly regarding my ongoing thinking about this shifting thinking community – what it is for, who it is for, and what it could do if we give it a chance.
If you’ve spent any time looking around this site you’ve probably picked up the idea that its key purpose is shifting our thinking about learning and education for the 21st century. We write a lot about how we think teaching and schooling will need to shift in order to be relevant and purposeful for today’s (and tomorrow’s) world. The teachers’ work thread speculates about what this means for teachers and teaching, and our community engagement thread asks how we might engage communities in this whole process of rethinking and redesign.
However, recently we’ve had a few in-house conversations about also needing to turn the spotlight back onto ourselves – the education researchers – to ask how we might need to shift our thinking about ourselves and our roles now and in the future. In short: What does it mean to be a “21st century educational researcher”? What kinds of ideas and practices might we need to let go of, and what new ones might we need to embrace? You might be surprised to learn that this is difficult and sometimes scary territory for many of us (we can talk about why some other time)!
All this is a long way of getting to the proposition in Dede’s article, which is about the use of web 2.0 to support educational research. He suggests it is time to move beyond the use of web 2.0 tools to enhance current scholarly practices for producing knowledge (e.g. communal bookmarking, professional networking, wikis, etc), and instead, move towards:
… initiating a new form of professional dialogue: sponsoring communities that attempt to generate “wisdom”. I am aware that this suggestion is provocative, controversial, and risky; nonetheless, I believe such an experiment is worth conducting (Dede, 2009, p. 261)
Dede imagines a potential infrastructure for generating wisdom comprising:
An interconnected suite of web 2.0 tools customized for research would provide (a) a virtual setting in which stakeholders of many different types could dialogue, (b) about rich artifacts grounded in practice and policy (c) with a set of social supports to encourage community norms that respect not only theoretical rigor and empirical evidence but also interpersonal, experiential, and moral-ethical understandings. For example… teachers could bring the “wisdom of practice” into such a community, and community representatives could articulate social and cultural norms reflective of their diverse values. These three capabilities of a research infrastructure seem essential for a community attempting to generate wisdom about educational issues; only in the past few years has ICT made these affordances widely available, practical, and inexpensive (Dede, 2009, p. 262).
I don’t know what you think, but I feel like this is what shiftingthinking is trying to achieve. Whether we’re on the right track with our tools and approach so far remains to be seen (but we do see shiftingthinking as a work in progress – and in addition to the web-based part, we also have the upcoming Shifting Thinking conference….hint hint)
Dede has some more to say about why such an “experiment” could seem risky, unwise, and perhaps downright foolish to some educational researchers – but if you want to know exactly what this is about, you should read the article
Dede, Chris. (2009). Technologies that facilitate generating knowledge and possibly wisdom. Educational Researcher 38 (4) pp. 260-263